New Yorks hospitals are tireless lobbyists for ever greater government subsidies, so its no surprise that theyve shamelessly tried to capitalize on September 11 by chasing after hundreds of millions of dollars in government aid.
Though the terrorist attack didnt overburden the citys emergency rooms, just three weeks later the hospitals rushed out a cobbled-together study claiming that it had cost them a staggering $340 million. Included in this huge sum was $200 million in projected lossesthat is, losses not directly related to September 11 but that the hospitals anticipated because of a terror-intensified slowdown in the New York economy. The hospitals argued that the feds should pony up for this expected revenue shortfall andas is frequent with their pleas of this sortthey warned of dire consequences to the citys health-care system if the government didnt come up with the cash. Fortunately, federal legislators, as a rule much less friendly to New York hospitals than local politicians tend to be, met the industrys entreaties with incredulity.
But the hospitals are relentless, so just a few weeks after their first request went nowhere, industry lobbyists issued a second report, this one estimating that the hospitals needed nearly $1 billion to get ready to deal with bio-terrorism and other terrorist threats. This study was even flimsier than its predecessor. Offering few details about how the hospitals had arrived at such a big price tag, it mostly rehashed old complaints about how federal cutbacks have gutted hospital resources. Privately, though, public health officials suggested that better communication and coordination, not a huge boost in funds, could best solve most of the readiness problems that the hospitals described.
Even some of the industrys biggest supporters seemed embarrassed by the audacity of these requests. New Yorks hospital-friendly U.S. senators, Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer, only sought $140 million for hospitals in the federal aid package for Gotham, the amount of direct losses the institutions claimed from September 11. The $140 million total was included in the bailout legislation that passed in Washington this past December.
Despite the hospitals lobbying setbacks, its too soon to count them out. In the months ahead, theyll warn of an impending health-care crisis and pressure politicians by feeding stories to the press about looming layoffs. Those stories in turn will all fail to note that New Yorks hospitals have done little to downsize and consolidate, even though medical advances enable doctors to treat more people as outpatients and shorten hospital stays. They will also ignore the giant subsidies that the hospitals already rake in, including yet a further $9 billion that the states Health Care Reform Act of 2000 gave to the health-care system over four years.
The Bush administration should prepare for this onslaught and view any further requests from the hospitals skeptically. The administration should instead use federal auditors to verify the hospitals claims before releasing any further funds. U.S. taxpayers shouldnt have to pick up the tab for the Empire States out-of-control health-care profligacy.